Voice of the Silence 15 (verses 215-229)

John Algeo – USA

Theosophy The Voice 2

... it is only Silence

The keys to the seven portals having been enumerated in the last group of verses, the next group (verses 215-222) begin an introduction to a more detailed description of the seven portals. The introduction continues through verse 229, which is followed by the start of the detailed treatment in verse 230.

 A. Verses [215-222].

[215] Before thou canst approach the last [Portal], O weaver of thy freedom, thou hast to master these Pāramitās of perfection — the virtues transcendental six and ten in number — along the weary Path.

[216] For, O disciple! Before thou wert made fit to meet thy Teacher face to face, thy Master light to light, what wert thou told?

[217] Before thou canst approach the foremost gate thou hast to learn to part the body from thy mind, to dissipate the shadow, and to live in the eternal. For this, thou hast to live and breathe in all, as all that thou perceivest breathes in thee; to feel thyself abiding in all things, all things in Self.

[218] Thou shalt not let thy senses make a playground of thy mind.

[219] Thou shalt not separate thy being from Being, and the rest, but merge the ocean in the drop, the drop within the ocean.

[220] So shalt thou be in full accord with all that lives; bear love to men as though they were thy brother-pupils, disciples of one Teacher, the sons of one sweet mother.

[221] Of teachers there are many; the Master-Soul is one, Ālaya, the Universal Soul. Live in that Master as Its ray in thee. Live in thy fellows as they live in It.

[222] Before thou standest on the threshold of the Path, before thou crossest the foremost gate, thou hast to merge the two into the One and sacrifice the personal to Self impersonal, and thus destroy the “path” between the two — antahkarana.

B. Comment.

Verse 215 addresses the aspirant as “weaver of thy freedom,” a metaphor with several implications. First, freedom, liberation, or enlightenment (as the goal of human life is variously called) is often represented as a “robe,” or rather a choice among three “robes” or “vestures”: dharmakāya, sambhogakāya, and nirmānakāya. The metaphor of the three robes was introduced in verses of the second fragment and is treated in more detail toward the end of this third fragment. But the important implication is that the robe is not something tailored by some other worker and given to us to put on. Rather we ourselves weave our own “robe.” Or as the third of the three Truths of the White Lotus has it: “we are each our own absolute lawgiver, the dispenser of glory or gloom to ourselves, the decreer of our life, our reward, our punishment.” Whether we put on the glorious white robes of the Book of Revelations (6.11, 7.13) or the poisonous robe of Nessus, which was the undoing of Hercules — we ourselves have woven that robe.

As mentioned earlier, the number of the pāramitās or transcendental virtues is variable. The most common numbers are six (for everyone) and ten (for monks).

In verse 216, the expression “meet thy Teacher face to face, thy Master light to light” is an interesting one. Meeting someone “face to face” is a conventional way of talking about a direct and immediate personal encounter. But meeting someone “light to light” is not a conventional way of talking, so we may wonder what it refers to. “Light” is often associated with the buddhic plane; we are “enlightened” when we are able to function consciously on that plane. To meet our “Master light to light” would then be in the intuitive light of buddhi. And the capitalization of “Master” suggests that we are not talking about a human being, however advanced in spiritual evolution, that is, not about one of the mahatmas, but rather about our own Higher Self. In fact, the terms “master” and “teacher” (which are synonyms) in the Voice often — perhaps usually — refer to the Inner or Higher Self rather than to some external individual. That, of course, goes along with the concept that we weave our own freedom. We cannot look to others to do for us what only we can do for ourselves. That is a core message in the Voice (and of Krishnamurti, whose teachings can thus be seen as a restatement of certain ideas in the Theosophical tradition).

Verse 217 is one of the most important in the whole book, because it states a central truth. To “part” the body from the mind is a metaphor for drawing a clear distinction between these two aspects of our nature and recognizing that our real self is not our body or the personality associated with it, but rather the individuality, of which the higher mind is the vehicle. The “shadow” is another metaphor for the personality, which is, as it were, only a shadow cast by the light of the Higher Self. This metaphor also echoes Plato’s parable of the Cave, which says that most people live in a cave, where they never see the light of the sun, but only shadows cast upon the cave’s walls. To “dissipate the shadow” is to transfer our self-identification from the shadowy personality to the sun of the individuality. To make this transference is “to live in the eternal,” that is, in the aspect of ourselves that abides and endures, rather than in the personality, which is of time and thus temporary. That is, the first sentence of the verse gives us the Delphic admonition to know ourselves — to realize who and what we really are. That is the essence of the whole quest or pilgrimage on which we are engaged. It is the goal of the Path.

The second sentence in verse 217 tells us what we must do to achieve that transference or self-discovery. Ironically, we do not achieve it by concentrating on ourselves. On the contrary, we discover our essential selves by realizing our unity with all life. We must “live and breathe in all,” just as all else breathes in us. We must feel ourselves “abiding in all things, all things in Self.” This is the same message as that delivered to the third annual convention of the Theosophical Society in America by H. P. Blavatsky, quoting a Master of the Wisdom (Collected Writings 11:169): “Feel yourselves as vehicles of the whole humanity, mankind as part of yourselves, and act accordingly.”

The language of the first sentence of verse 217 suggests death imagery: parting the body from the mind, dissipating the shadow of the personality, living instead in the eternal. Physical death has long been a metaphor for spiritual birth. In ancient Egypt, the pyramid texts, which we call “The Egyptian Book of the Dead,” ostensibly describe postmortem existence, but they have long been regarded as a manual of initiation into a higher state of consciousness.

In fact, the after-death stages are parallel to the stages of progress on the Path. The death of the physical body and its associated personality at the end of an incarnation follows the same pattern as the transference of self-identification from the personality to the individuality, which is one phase of enlightenment, and it is for this reason that the metaphor of death is appropriate for the experience of spiritual birth.

The stages of bodily death and the corresponding stages of transferring one’s self-identification from the personality to the individuality, as represented in verse 217, are as follows:

1. The death of the body, when the three lower principles associated with it (subtle body or double, life energy, and desires) separate from the higher ones (emotional mind, intellectual mind, and monadic core), accompanied by a review of the past life. This is “to part thy body from thy mind.”

2. The division of the contents of the psyche between what is individual and abiding, attached to the higher intellectual mind, and what is personal and transitory, attached to the lower empirical and emotional mind, which is cast off as a “shell.” This is “to dissipate the shadow.”

3. The period of “gestation,” which is an integration into the intellectual mind of what is worth preserving from the past incarnation. This is “to live in the eternal.”

4. The entry of consciousness into the state of devachan, the period of reward and recuperation. This is like crossing to nirvāna, the other shore, “to live and breathe in all . . . abiding in all things.”

Verses 218-221 elaborate some of the ideas already considered: distinguishing between the bodily senses and the mind (verse 218) and “abiding in all things” with the metaphor of the ocean and the drop (verse 219).

The latter verse uses an interesting and important variation on an old metaphor, which compares freedom from the limitations of separateness (that is, nirvāna) to a drop of water merging into the ocean, from which it ultimately came. All metaphors, if interpreted literally or pushed too far, yield unwarranted implications. If we think of the individual’s entering nirvāna as like a drop of water’s merging into the ocean, then the implication is that the individual ceases to exist as an individual, just as the drop ceases to be a distinct drop when it enters the ocean.

That, however, is not the traditional Theosophical view, and this verse of the Voice avoids such an implication by using a double metaphor, one half of which is paradoxical. The nirvānic experience of the oneness of all life is said to be both like a drop merging into the ocean and like the ocean merging into the drop. From the standpoint of relativity, when a drop and the ocean get together, we can look at the process in either way. Usually we say that the drop has merged into the ocean because the ocean is clearly the bigger body and we think of big things as absorbing little ones. However, if we look at the event from the viewpoint of the drop, we could just as well say that the ocean has merged into it.

The latter is the way the Theosophical tradition looks at it. When we realize our unity with all life, we do not cease to exist as a realizer — that is, as a separate consciousness. What we realize is that our separate consciousness is a particular expression of the general consciousness pervading the cosmos. The universal consciousness has merged into us.

Verse 221 makes quite clear the point alluded to earlier, namely that the Master is not some external authority or teacher, but the Higher Self, which is a conscious expression of the Universal Soul. HPB’s gloss makes this explicit: Gloss 8. The Master-Soul is Ālaya, the universal soul or Ātman, each man having a ray of it in him and being supposed to be able to identify himself with and to merge himself into it.

The literal meaning of ālaya is “house, dwelling.” The word consists of a prepositional prefix ā- meaning “near to” and a form of the root meaning “to settle down.” The word is familiar as part of the place name Himālaya for the mountains to the north of India, a name that means literally “abode of snow” (from hima a general term for “cold, frost, snow” and ālaya). Ālaya is a domestic word, with warm associations, so its use for the universal soul or the general Ātman implies that the One Self is our true home, our natural dwelling place. The literal meaning is echoed in the expression “live in . . .,” which is repeated seven times.

Verse 222 continues to treat the transfer of consciousness from the personal to the individual. Here they are said to merge, just as the individual merges into the universal life of Ālaya. The path between the personal and the individual is “destroyed” because they are no longer separate.

That path, the antahkarana, is the connecting link between the personality and the individuality. It is sometimes said to be a link between the higher and lower minds, but that is only a manner of speaking, as HPB makes clear. We call the mind “higher” when it is energized by and responding to buddhi or intellect and “lower” when energized by and responding to kāma or desire. HPB says in her gloss that this path or connecting link is mind energized by desire. That is what links our abiding individuality with the temporary personality of the body: Gloss 9. Antahkarana is the lower manas, the path of communication or communion between the personality and the higher manas or human Soul. At death it is destroyed as a path or medium of communication, and its remains survive in a form as the kāmarupa — the shell. Notice that in this gloss a correspondence is again drawn between the postmortem state and the process of enlightenment.

C. Meditation.

Envision the process of a drop merging into the ocean as the ocean’s receiving the drop. Then change your focus so that it is on the drop, receiving the whole ocean into it, without losing its sense of identity. Imagine yourself as that drop, which has become and thus contains the fullness of the ocean.


Verses 223-229 conclude the introductory matter before a more detailed consideration of the seven portals and their keys, which the following verses present.

A. Verses [223-229].

[223] Thou hast to be prepared to answer Dharma, the stern law, whose voice will ask thee at thy first, at thy initial, step:

[224] “Hast thou complied with all the rules, O thou of lofty hopes?”

[225] “Hast thou attuned thy heart and mind to the great mind and heart of all mankind? For as the sacred river's roaring voice whereby all Nature-sounds are echoed back, so must the heart of him ‘who in the stream would enter,’ thrill in response to every sigh and thought of all that lives and breathes.”

[226] Disciples may be likened to the strings of the soul-echoing vīnā; mankind, unto its sounding board; the hand that sweeps it to the tuneful breath of the great World-Soul. The string that fails to answer ’neath the Master's touch in dulcet harmony with all the others, breaks — and is cast away. So the collective minds of lanoo-śrāvakas. They have to be attuned to the Upādyāya’s mind — one with the Over-Soul — or break away.

[227] Thus do the “Brothers of the Shadow” — the murderers of their souls, the dread Dad-Dugpa clan.

[228] Hast thou attuned thy being to humanity's great pain, O candidate for light?

[229] Thou hast? . . . Thou mayest enter. Yet, ere thou settest foot upon the dreary Path of sorrow, ’tis well thou shouldst first learn the pitfalls on thy way.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

B. Comment.

Verse 225 speaks of the “merger” of verse 222 as an attuning of the individual’s heart and mind with those of all humanity. HPB’s gloss further develops the musical metaphor: Gloss 10. The Northern Buddhists, and all Chinamen, in fact, find in the deep roar of some of the great and sacred rivers the keynote of Nature. Hence the simile. It is a well-known fact in physical science, as well as in occultism, that the aggregate sound of Nature — such as heard in the roar of great rivers, the noise produced by the waving tops of trees in large forests, or that of a city heard at a distance — is a definite single tone of quite an appreciable pitch. This is shown by physicists and musicians. Thus Prof. Rice (Chinese Music) shows that the Chinese recognized the fact thousands of years ago by saying that “the waters of the Hoang-ho rushing by, intoned the kung,” called “the great tone” in Chinese music; and he shows this tone corresponding with the note F, “considered by modern physicists to be the actual tonic of Nature.” Professor B. Silliman mentions it, too, in his Principles of Physics, saying that “this tone is held to be the middle F of the piano; which may, therefore, be considered the keynote of Nature.”

The idea that there is a particular “keynote” of nature is part of the concept of the “music of the spheres.” The latter imagery comes down from ancient times, when it was believed that each of the seven sacred planets (Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) moved in a sphere around the earth and, in doing so, produced a characteristic musical tone. The combination of all those tones was a perfect harmony, the music of the spheres. A natural extension of that concept is that the Earth also has a keynote. This symbolism is the basis for some sacred music and for the theory of the power of mantric sound.

The metaphor of musical harmony is continued in verses 226 and 227. The vīnā is a stringed instrument from India typically with a gourd resonator or sounding board, a long bamboo fingerboard, and four strings. A lanoo is a disciple, also called a “chela”; a śrāvaka is a “listener.” The first stage in spiritual training is to learn the elements of the tradition; before the widespread availability of books, this was done by listening to the discourses of those learned in the tradition. Hence the beginning student was called a “listener” (in the Pythagorean school, an akoustikos, with the same meaning). In Freemasonry, an entered apprentice of the first Degree is supposed to listen and not talk in meetings. Silence is the norm for learners. An Upādhyāya, on the other hand, is a teacher or instructor, here the Over-Soul, whose speech is the Voice of the Silence.

In verse 227, a contrast is drawn between good disciples, who harmonize with the Over-Soul, and the “Brothers of the Shadow,” those who seek learning and its power for what they think is their own separate and selfish benefit. “Dad-Dugpa” is a Tibetan term for a school of lamas with the reputation (deserved or otherwise) of engaging in such disreputable practices. HPB glosses the term: Gloss 11. The Bhöns or Dugpas, the sect of the “Red Caps,” are regarded as the most versed in sorcery. They inhabit Western and Little Tibet and Bhutan. They are all Tāntrikas. It is quite ridiculous to find Orientalists who have visited the borderlands of Tibet, such as Schlagintweit and others, confusing the rites and disgusting practices of these with the religious beliefs of the Eastern Lamas, the “Yellow Caps,” and their Naljors or holy men. The following [gloss 12, to verse 237 in another set of comments] is an instance.

Bhöns are followers of a shamanistic, pre-Buddhist tradition of Tibet that assimilated to Buddhism when it was introduced into their land. They are called “Red Caps” from the color of the hood-like hat they wear. A Tāntrika is a follower of one of the traditions of Tantra, a Hindu or Buddhist school of mystical, magical, and ritual practice. Tantra includes a large variety of practices that can be loosely classified as “white” or “black” magic. HPB’s critical appraisal of Tantra is directed toward the latter, which includes the deliberate, ritual violation of moral and ethical principles and of accepted forms of behavior, rather like the Black Mass tradition of the Western Occult revival. A Naljor is a Tibetan saintly person.

Humanity’s great pain” of verse 228 is the duhkha, or frustration and disharmony, which the first Noble Truth of the Buddha says is humanity’s condition. It is caused by ignorance, craving, and anger. Although disciples must be free from those causes — being instead knowledgeable, content, and peaceful — they need to understand the human condition, or they cannot help humanity. So without sharing that pain, the disciple must be attuned to it. The “dreary Path of sorrow” of verse 229 is the path of those who choose to remain in the world as servers of humanity rather than to escape from it into their individual salvation. That Path is, to be sure, ultimately one of inexpressible joy. As HPB’s statement “There Is a Road” puts it, at the end of that Path, “there is reward past all telling — the power to bless and save humanity.” Yet the treading of that Path does involve the experience of “dreary sorrow,” for that is the condition of humanity, to which the disciple must be attuned. And that experience consists of the “pitfalls on thy way” which the disciple must learn about.

Verse 229 is followed by a line of leaders (or dots), suggesting a break in the text at this point. The whole work is described on its title page as “chosen fragments,” so this is presumably a point of fragmentation.

C. Meditation.

Think about a series of musical notes that combine into a harmonious whole. A dictionary definition of harmony includes such terms as progression, pleasing, congruent, correspondence, accord, tranquility, interweaving, systematic, agreement. How do such terms throw light on the meaning of harmony? How is harmony a good metaphor for order in the cosmos and in our own lives?

Think of the sounds of nature. Hear them with your inner ear. Think of those sounds as blending together in a great and harmonious symphony in which each sound has its place and combines with all the others to make a total pattern.

Think of your own life as a sound, a note or chord, and hear it blended with all the other sounds of nature, as part of that total symphony.

To be continued

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